The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Racial Politics and the Three-Fifths Myth

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My wife and I received our 2010 Census form. We got the long version. It’s filled with questions about race and national origin. It’s un-American and an insult. The Bible does not separate people according to racial characteristics. Such a classification system is truly modern, based on evolutionary assumptions. For the Darwinist, “race” is simply a “subspecies,” a direct link to animals. Such a designation helps to explain the subtitle to Darwin’s The Origin of Species by Natural Selection. The subtitle reads, The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. “Although racism is an ancient fallacy, it was Darwinian evolutionism that first seemed to give it scientific plausibility.”[1] Scripture clearly states that “all nations of men” have been made from “one blood” (Acts 17:26), clearly an anti-racism statement.

America committed a sin of monumental proportion when it got involved in the slave trade. Bringing blacks from Africa against their will for the purpose of servile labor was a clear violation of biblical law, a capital offense (Ex. 21:16). The comments of Adam Clarke (1762?–1832) are to the point:By this law, every man-stealer, and every receiver of the stolen person, lost his life: whether the latter stole the man himself, or gave money to a Slave-Captain or Negro Dealer to steal for him. All kidnapping and slave-dealing are prohibited, whether practiced by individuals or the state.[2]

If the law against “man stealing” had been followed, that is, if America had truly adopted the “whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27), America would never have had the stigma of slavery impressed upon its collective soul. There were many Christians who were opposed to slavery and worked to abolish the “peculiar institution.” Other Christians tried to make living conditions of slaves tolerable. None of these efforts, however, was perfect. The fact that some Christians participated in this atrocity and others supported it makes the crime doubly heinous. We look back and ask how freedom loving Americans could have given support to such a system. A similar question could be asked of those who support abortion on demand today. The sin of slave owners is no greater than those Christians who support abortion and those who claim to be personally opposed but not willing to outlaw a woman’s right to do what she wants with her own body and that of her unborn baby. There are few descendants of slaves—those who pass themselves off as “Black Leaders”—who acknowledge this bit of immoral equivalency.

Slavery, however, was entrenched in American society before the Constitution was drafted. In fact, the slave trade existed all over Africa before the colonists took advantage of the situation. Blacks were being enslaved by other blacks and then sold to Europeans and American colonists. This goes to show that today’s “black-on-black crime” is nothing new. Of course, neither is “white-on-white crime.” Slavery was evil and contrary to biblical morality.

The issue of slavery was a major concern in the Constitutional Convention and was discussed at length in the debates. A significant minority of the delegates to the Federal Convention were staunch opponents of slavery, primarily those who adhered to the Federalist philosophy. Franklin and Hamilton opposed slavery. John Jay, who would become the first Chief Justice of the United States, was president of the New York anti-slavery society. Northern Federalist leaders Rufus King and Gouvernour Morris were outspoken opponents of slavery and the slave trade. “Southern and Border State Federalists also openly opposed the institution.”[3] The Constitution, however, does not use the word “race,” “slavery,” “slave,” “white,” or “black.” Such omissions are curious since there are many who view the Constitution as a racist document. Actually, the word “slavery” did not enter the Constitution until after the Civil War.

The so-called racist intent of the Constitution is seen in the “three-fifths clause” found in Article I, section 2, clause 3. Contrary to what some historians claim, the “three-fifths clause” is a clear indication that a number of our constitutional founders wanted to end slavery; it is not a statement about personhood. The Northern states did not want to count slaves. The Southern states hoped to include slaves in the population statistics so as to acquire additional representation in Congress. The compromise was to count slaves as “three-fifths” of a person for representation purposes. The fewer slaves counted, the fewer number of representatives.

The goal of the Northern delegates was to dilute Southern voting strength so as to outlaw slavery by constitutional means. “The struggle that took place in the convention was between the Southern delegates trying to strengthen the constitutional supports for slavery and the Northern delegates trying to weaken them.”[4] If none of the slaves had been included in the population count for representation, as Northern delegates wanted, the slave states would have had only 41 percent of the seats in the House. If all the slaves had been included, as the pro-slave states wanted, the slave states would have had 50 percent of the seats. By agreeing to count slaves as three-fifths of a person for representation purposes, the slaveholding states ended up with a minority voting position—47 percent. Robert L. Goldwin concludes:

[T]he point is that the “three-fifths clause” had nothing at all to do with measuring the human worth of blacks. Northern delegates did not want black slaves included, not because they thought them unworthy of being counted, but because they wanted to weaken the slaveholding power in Congress. Southern delegates wanted every slave to count “equally with the Whites,” not because they wanted to proclaim that black slaves were human beings on an equal footing with free white persons, but because they wanted to increase the pro-slavery voting power in Congress. The humanity of blacks was not the subject of the three-fifths clause; voting power in Congress was the subject.[5]

Was it right for the Northern delegates to agree to this compromise? We will never know. Second guessing the actions of men who lived two-hundred years ago is a waste of time and energy. Distorting the facts of history is reprehensible.

Endnotes:

[1] Henry M. Morris, The Long War Against God: The History and Impact of the Creation/Evolution Conflict (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 64.
[2] Quoted in John W. Christie and Dwight L. Dumond, George Bourne and The Book and Slavery Irreconcilable, published by the Historical Society of Delaware and the Presbyterian Historical Society (1969), 119. Bourne’s The Book and Slavery Irreconcilable was first published in 1816.
[3] Nathaniel Weyl and William Marina, American Statesmen on Slavery and the Negro (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1971), 48.
[4] Robert A. Goldwin, “Why Blacks, Women & Jews Are Not Mentioned in the Constitution,” Commentary (May 1987), 29.
[5] “Why Blacks, Women & Jews Are Not Mentioned in the Constitution,” 30.

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